The CAO journey is about to begin for the Class of 2020. From tomorrow (Tuesday) at 12pm, the CAO online application system will open for the 2020 season.

Students including school leavers, mature students, FETAC/QQI and other non-standard applications can register their CAO application by logging on to and clicking on Apply. By registering your personal details and paying the application fee of €30 before 5.15pm on January 20, and €45 thereafter up to February 1 at 5.15pm, you receive your CAO number. Once you have completed this first step you can edit your application by using the ‘My Application’ facility.

Some further supplementary information may be required by the various deadlines so it is important to download the CAO handbook and read it carefully. Courses can be introduced up to February 1, at 5.15pm and can be amended later when the ‘Change of Mind’ facility opens from May 5 to July 1, at 5.15pm. However, students must be careful about courses that are marked as ‘Restricted’ in the CAO handbook as they can’t be added in after the February 1 deadline.

It is essential to enter your personal details carefully and correctly to avoid any confusion at offers stage. Students have the option to fill up to 10 choices for level 8 courses and 10 choices for level 6/7. Before applying for a course, check that you meet the minimum entry requirements – this information is available on the website of the institution. Having the points for a course is not enough; you must meet the course/institution’s requirements to be considered. The most important rule of all is that you must place your course choices in genuine order of preference.

This is an exciting time for students but it can become daunting and confusing as you sift through all the information available to you as you try to make this important decision about what route to take. The key thing is to start the process early, use all the resources around you to help and ensure that you research thoroughly all courses that you include in your CAO application. That way you will make an informed choice.

Online resources like and are very helpful and the college websites have lots of details about courses. The CAO website has lots of very useful resources for students and parents to try to assist you in this process. And don’t forget to talk to lots of people who can help such as parents, older siblings and relations, people you know who have studied or worked in the area that interests you, your guidance counsellor and teachers and of course the staff in the various colleges.


Niamh Dwyer is a guidance counsellor in Scoil Phobail Sliabh Luachra, Rathmore and is PRO of the Kerry Branch of Guidance Counsellors.